Fritz vs. Lewis: Last look at Portland City Commission candidates

Read this before you vote! Find out what we learned at this East Portland Chamber of Commerce ‘Candidate’s Forum’ last week, featuring Amanda Fritz and Charles Lewis …

The Portland City Council candidates Amanda Fritz and Charles Lewis ready themselves for the early-morning forum at CherryWood Village.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Before the coffee in the candidates’ cups could cool, Ken Turner, the Government Affairs chair of the East Portland Chamber of Commerce, began the organization’s last Candidate’s Forum of the season promptly at 8:00 a.m.

After asking the candidates to introduce themselves, first Turner and then audience members quizzed the candidates about Freightliner’s move, and other relevant topics.

Here’s your final look at the candidates for this important City of Portland position – in their own words.

Portland City Council candidate Amanda Fritz.

Introducing Amanda Fritz
“I was born and raised in England, in case anyone is wondering about the accent. I came to the United States when I was 21, right after college. We decided to move to Portland in 1986, as we thought this would be the place to live and raise a family – sure enough, it is.

“I am running for Portland City Council, to provide all basic services in all 95 neighborhoods and 35 business districts by spending taxpayer’s money wisely.

“The city Council has a $3 billion budget to spend.  I feel we can do a better job of prioritizing our existing budget to provide services in every part of the city.”

Says dirt roads not a sign of good ‘urban renewal’
“Recently the Oregonian asked us both to pick a place that exemplifies our interest in the city,” Fritz continued.

“I chose to come to Gateway, to SE Pine Street. We stood on this unpaved street, and I asked. ‘Is this truly a Regional Center? Is this a good example of an Urban Renewal District? Is this promoting the kind of housing and businesses that will support the existing businesses and existing residences here in Gateway?’

“We need to have more progress in parts of the city that have not had their fair share in the past.

“I live in Southwest Portland, in an area that was annexed in 1979. It shares many of the same problems – no parks; no sidewalks. It took 13 years to get a park in my neighborhood. East Portland is parks-deficient also. We need to put our attention and effort on the parts of town that is not had that service in the past.

“I served on the planning commission for seven years, in an advisory capacity to the City Council on issues of economic development, transportation, and crime prevention. I’ve been providing citizen involvement for schools, parks and neighborhoods.

“I’ve participated at the grassroots level for the last 17 years. I look forward to putting this experience to work for you.”

Portland City Council candidate Charles Lewis.

Introducing Charles Lewis
“I am the executive director of Ethos Music Center.  It’s a nonprofit that I started about 10 years ago. I was a graduate student at Harvard University, and I was concerned about the tremendous budget cuts that destroyed the kindergarten through eighth grade music programs in our schools.

“Instead of cashing on my degree, I flew back home to Portland, slept on a friend’s couch for about a year and a half, and started up this nonprofit on my credit card. Ten years later, we have a staff of 78. We brought music education back to 2,200 kids, and started up 120 after-school programs, and we’re expanding in the rural parts of Oregon as well. Our budget is about $1 million a year. We’re filling a very critical need for kids in our community.

“My interest in running for Portland City Council is that I think we need some of that same innovative, creative drive on our Council. We’re going to be experiencing some very difficult economic times, and we need someone who has a track record of finding creative and innovative solutions to problems, and bringing them to the Portland City Council.

“Before I started up Ethos, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Congo, I was a student at the University of Portland, and I studied business and political science. I am married, 36 years old; I’ll be 37 the day after the election. We have a brand-new baby girl, 3½ months old.”

First campaign stop: filling potholes
Lewis continued, “I started off my campaign about a year and a half ago, in my neighborhood (Cully), by filling potholes on the dirt road that we live on. The city will not touch your dirt road or the potholes on your dirt road. They’re good about filling in some of the potholes on paved roads, but not for people who live on unpaved roads.

“Transportation and infrastructure investment are things that are very important to me. I am a former small business owner. My wife and I ran Portland Duck Tours, a business that gave tours on land and water.

“I’ll be focused on creating more jobs in Portland.  It’s something I’ve done with Ethos Music. I’ll focus on helping out our schools and our kids, and helping neighborhoods throughout the City of Portland.”

Questions and Answers

Q “How do we improve the business climate in Portland – especially in light of the loss of Freightliner Trucks?” Turner asked

A: Lewis
“It may be too late to keep them from moving. I think we need to think more in terms of small businesses. For me, it’s about having a broad, even base. It’s not about investing in one single corporation. This one comes down to this: The corporation will act in their own self-interest, and that of their stockholders.

“But if you invest in small businesses, people who live here, and work here, and have kids in schools here – those families are going to stay and offer more real benefits. Over 80% of the jobs in Portland are created in small businesses.

“I’ve been promoting more access to capital through a revolving loan program with the City of Portland. It’s something I’ve tried to get for several years; it’s always oversubscribed and under-funded. We need capital for small businesses. Small businesses have a very small default rate – the Small Business Association operates [a lending program like this that has] had has a default rate of .17%; hardly any of these loans are defaulted.  It’s a very secure investment in the future of Portland.”

Portland City Council candidate Amanda Fritz.

A Fritz
Smaller businesses depend on large businesses for getting orders for goods and providing services to them.

“Our economy depends on large businesses, as well as many small businesses, in Portland.

“If you go to my website, you’ll see a specific plan for how both large and small businesses can grow – and what we can do to attract and retain companies that will help keep Portland’s economy vibrant.

“Mayor-Elect Sam Adams, who endorsed me yesterday, sent out an e-mail asking how we can support the Freightliner workers that are losing their jobs.  These are family-wage jobs that are gone. Those are people who buy from our businesses and put their money back into the Portland economy.

“One of the things we need do is have city commissioners who take note of what the existing programs are, to make sure that they work and that they’re utilized. This means getting information out about job retraining. We also need to provide the well-educated workforce that businesses need to thrive.

“We need commissioners who can work in collaboration with those who know the issues even better than Charles or I. Personally, I’m tired of politicians telling us what will work better for you. I will listen to you, and take your recommendations on what will work better.”

Q “What method should be used by the Portland business community to bring business-related issues to the attention of the City Council?

A: Fritz
“I will continue coming to Gateway, Midway, Parkrose, and to all the places you are. When I am elected, I can be quiet – and listen to what you had to say, so you can tell me what you need. I think this has been lacking in Portland city government for quite a while. I see this happening in the neighborhood system, too.

“Once every four years, the politicians come around and want to hear your opinion; then you don’t see them for 3½ years. That will not be me. I will be back – even at 7:30 in the morning. I want you to know that I have not accepted another single invitation to speak at 7:30 a.m., other than to this group.”

Portland City Council candidate Charles Lewis.

A: Lewis
“It’s by voting. I’m an East Portland resident; I live at about 60th and Prescott Street.  East Portland residents have one city commissioner who lives past 42nd Avenue who’s representing their issues and understands what we’re going through.

“If it’s more investment in infrastructure, roads that need to be paved, or sidewalks needed for kids to get to school – it’s something that I would work with.  Or the Prostitution-Free Zones on 82nd Avenue, wouldn’t it be nice to have someone who understands, from East Portland? We need more representation for East County.

“In addition, I believe that we need more representation for people who have created jobs in Portland; people who have run a small business and who have managed a budget. These are unique qualities that I bring to this office, and to the Portland City Council in general.”

Q “Portland City Commissioner and Mayor-elect Sam Adams made note that 24% of Portland families live below the federal poverty level. What role should the Portland City Council take, to create jobs for East Portland residents – and will this include public works?”

A: Lewis
“I come from a low-income family myself. I was one of six kids raised by a single mom who worked two jobs as a waitress, in order to make ends meet. I was able to work my way through college as a construction surveyor in Alaska, and earn a full-ride scholarship to Harvard University.

“Instead of cashing in on my degree, I came back to Portland to give back to my community. Portland’s low-income population is very important to me.  Job creation, and supporting small businesses – the ones that create the most jobs here in Portland – is most critical, and is in the forefront of my agenda. There are a ton of things that we can do.

“In terms of capital and public works projects, yes, we need to focus on public works projects, to keep jobs going, especially during a recession. Historically, it’s a way that we can get out of recessions. It improves businesses, and helps improve the infrastructure around Portland.”

A: Fritz
“Public works are one of the ways we got into to this recession. The City Council has a $3 billion budget to spend.  We can spend it more wisely by providing well-paying jobs for Portlanders.

“I want to look at the whole issue of contracts, and how the city spends that money. Currently, a section of the city code says contracts can run 25% over-budget before the City Council reviews them again. My [personal] budget doesn’t run 25% over budget before I start asking questions! Look at how the Tram went from $9 Million to $15 Million to $57 Million! If I’d have been on the City Council [then], I’d have been asking hard questions about the project.”

Q “According to reports of the Portland Department of Transportation, the City’s transportation infrastructure is in dire need – and will require millions of dollars to bring the system up to spec at a cost of $9 million a year. If you are in charge of PDOT, what steps would you take to fund this transportation problem?

A: Fritz
“By prioritizing the work needed to improve public safety on streets and sidewalks.

“My first son was born 22 years ago, and we wanted him to go to college. So, we started sacking money away. We didn’t have much money at the time, but we started saving money every month, so now at this point we have three kids in college – all graduates of Portland public schools. We’re still challenged by paying three college education fees. But we can do it without taking out humongous loans.

“The city needs to do the same thing with a $400 million backlog of transportation funding. We have a plan. We’re not going to be able to pay for this all at once.

“You know the City’s ‘surplus’? It’s not a surplus. It is money that could have – and should have – been used to pave streets, to provide sidewalks to school so kids can walk there. What I will do if I’m elected is to have a plan for how we’re going to do that. We shouldn’t even think about having citizens taxed for more money, before we have a plan to use the money that we do have more wisely.”

A: Lewis
“One of the things we need to stop doing is repaving roads that don’t need to be repaved. This year, walking the streets of Portland and knocking on doors, I see roads are being torn up and repaved. It doesn’t make sense. It’s based on an archaic model, with a focus on the main streets, regardless of whether not they need work. I’d like to bring some common sense to the process. In addition, we need to be more efficient with our resources.”

Lewis then gave an example of how he’s worked with the city to get a 20-spot bicycle corral built in front of his music training company. “It’s taken the city two years to create it. The amount of staff time than it took to engineer this bike rack was just ridiculous. We need to be more efficient. Frankly we need more investment in infrastructure.

“We have a lot of money dedicated to roads from the franchise fee.  It was diverted under Mayor Katz’s administration. Just recently, the city Council voted to put that funding back toward the roads. I think it’s a good first step, but we need to focus on the basic infrastructure.”

Q Chamber member, Richard Kiely of Home Run Graphics asked: “Every political go-around we hear politicians telling us they’ll spend money wisely.  Then they go back downtown and do what they want. Is there could be something that you can do to make sure that we get what we need from you?”

A: Lewis
“With me, as somebody who’s run a small business in a nonprofit – unlike a lot of politicians have had no experience managing a business – I had to live within a budget.

“For me, the proof is in the pudding. I spent money wisely, always looking at the bottom line. Otherwise you just go out of business. I’m not like most politicians, and I live in East Portland, like many of you. [When you think of] my priorities, I kicked off my campaign by filling in potholes on our dirt road.  I feel that East Portlanders are left out of the process. I’ll bring more representation to Portland city Council.”

A: Fritz
“It would be an interesting discussion, would it not, whether Randy Leonard has brought services to outer East Portland – he’s a resident of Pleasant Valley.

“You don’t have to live in a particular area care about that area.

“I agree; look what I’ve done. When I left consulting with the Planning Commission, spent the past year working on Parks issues. I was in a meeting in Southwest Portland; a Parks Bureau person presented information. I went to an East Portland Parks meeting the following week and the same information was not presented – they presented different information.

Portland City Council candidate Amanda Fritz.

“What I did to fix that was to form the Citywide Parks team with East Portlanders Alicia Reece and Linda Robertson; she’s now the Chair of that group. Now, once a month, Parks people get the same information at the same time. Sure enough, we’re now getting a lot more attention on the Parks-deficient areas in East Portland, and across the city as well.

“We need to bring people together and accept that Portland’s problems are everyone’s problems. Portland’s benefits should be everyone’s benefits.  People really do care, all over Portland, about fairness and equity and getting those services back to the neighborhoods that need them so badly.”

Q “: if the population doubles in the next 30 years, and the population keeps moving to Southeast Portland, how are you people going to work on our freeways to help smooth out the transportation problems? And what will you do to help prepare us for having twice the population that we already have?” asked chamber member Charles Powell, with Coaching At Its Best.

A: Fritz
“I served on the Portland Planning Commission for seven years. We were looking at this question. The Portland Plan is supposed to address that issue, as well as others, and to look at individual neighborhoods, and what is required to help make them livable.

“Half of the building permits in Portland are east of 82nd Avenue. We need to look at the specifics to see what’s been provided. The opportunity of the Portland Plan is it is supposed to adopt specific implementations and funding.  Is crucial that both business community members and neighbors get involved in that process.

“You need someone on the City Council who understands how the nice-sounding policies about ’20-minute Walkable Neighborhoods’ may – or may not – be implemented where you live or work. Regarding freeways, we need to make sure that people have commercial areas in their neighborhoods, so they don’t have to get on the freeways to go shopping.”

A: Lewis
“In terms of freeways, this is one difference between myself and Amanda. “In regard to the Columbia River Crossing, I support the $4 billion in investment from federal and state and local funds. Amanda says she would’ve voted against it. I’ve lived in North and Northeast Portland for 18 years. I understand the bottleneck there.

“I do think that we should invest in more light rail, TriMet service, and reduce the amount of vehicle miles driven. But I more than we do have a bottleneck, and it is going to get worse, and we need to have that investment.

Portland City Council candidate Charles Lewis.

“You’ll remember that the Mt. Hood Freeway project; there was a lot of opposition to it. So we get a federal allocation of funds for the project and ended up deciding that we didn’t want the freeway and we directed it toward mass transit. With this project, I think we can come up with a state or local funds for it and skip the federal money.

“If we end up building more light rail, I’d be very happy with it, as well.”

Q Moderator Turner asked, “How are you going to convince the other members of the Portland City Council to use the Utility Licensing Fee – or at least 20% of it – for transportation, as originally intended?”

A: Lewis
“[A passing vote on City Council] takes three out of five. They voted to move in that direction. They understand that we have a tremendous backlog, $420 million backlog of road repair, and transportation. Our roads in Portland need serious help. The Council is realizing that we need to have some investment. They’ve diverted the transportation funds intended for projects like the Tram, and projects that don’t benefit the majority of people.

“I’ll take it to the streets if that’s what it comes to. One of the things I’ve found about politicians as they seem to wave in the wind, and go where the population’s interest is focused. I’ll rally the troops to make sure that Council knows it’s important to us. We’ll talk about some of the basic infrastructure that we need in Portland.”

A: Fritz
“I participated in City Council processes for over a decade.  I’ve watched like in the budgeting process, how they’ve come up with their budget and put it out for citizens to make comment on it.

“A somewhat effective way to get the Council’s attention is to have a lot of folks show up and agitate. But that’s not a good process. We need to return to the ‘Neighborhood Needs’ process.  This is where the neighborhoods are asked about their priorities, in terms of transportation improvements and other issues.

“This way, when you got the citizen input into what the transportation needs are, it’s going to be easier for me as a City Commissioner to insist that the Council follow its previous promises. Having followed the City Council decisions over the last 17 years, time and again, promises have been broken. But, as a nurse and a mom, I know that promises are important; we need to do what we say we’re going to do.”

Find out more about the East Portland Chamber of Commerce
To learn more about this engaged group of business people, check their new web site by CLICKING HERE.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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